By the time she and my father began having the discussions that eventually drummed me up from the ether, she’d long since forgotten the title of the book, but my name was still with her. She expressed an affinity for it early on, along with the name “Shelby Jo.” She wasn’t sure which one I’d be. She and my father just figured that when they met me, they’d know.
As it turns out, the first words I ever heard were that of my father exclaiming, “It’s a girl! It’s Lindsey Sue!” He named me before even consulting my mother, but she agreed, when I was handed up to her. They knew I was a Lindsey. Since I first heard the story, I’ve been grateful that they vetoed Shelby Jo. I'm comfortable in my name.
Lindsey means “Linden trees near the water,” or “By the Lind Sea.” When I think of this, in my mind I picture a long horizon of ocean meeting a long horizon of sky, rippled with waves and birds, the Linden trees and I gazing toward it. I have an affinity for beaches – where the land meets the sea – and maybe that’s why. I’ve always thought my name had a quiet dignity about it. It’s cute, but not cutesy. Refined, but not snobby. The perfect length at two syllables; just long enough to suit formality without being a mouthful, but easily shortened to “Linz” to those who endear me. There’s a sing-songy optimism about it, but it also seems perfectly at home when attributed to the author of a thoughtful work of prose or poetry.
Once, while working for a bank, I answered the phone with a mention of my name and department. The voice booming from the other end was definitely that of a male, and he sounded like a large, robust one at that. “You said your name is Lindsey?” He asked, in a confident, commanding tone. “Well, hey, that’s my name, too!” I thought first of how unfortunate my caller had been growing up, assuming he must've been made fun of. But then I realized that I may have been wrong about my name all along. The more I mulled it over, the more I found the masculinity in it, just as surely as the femininity. It’s a name that adapts. It behooves all the complexities of a person.
A part of me has always wondered how different I would be if my parents had gone the other route; if my dad had proclaimed me Shelby Jo instead. I don’t know any Shelby Jos, but I imagine that being bubbly is a mandate for them all. It’s a decidedly feminine name, and tips the scale from “refined” right over toward “cutesy.” I imagine, as a Shelby Jo, I’d have cared a lot more about clothing and makeup than I do now. She sounds more like a hairdresser than a writer. That’s not a detriment, by any means. The introverted task of rumination and the tedium of jotting everything down seem too drab and pessimistic for someone of such a perky moniker. Shelby Jos probably have a lot more fun. Shelby Jo doesn’t sound like the kind of person that lies awake in the middle of the night pondering existential questions. She’s liberated by surety, doesn’t bother with what can’t be known.
But why do I identify so strongly with one name over the other? Where do these constructs even come from? Doesn’t a person make the name, not the other way around?
Maybe if I were Shelby Jo, I’d be the same person. Maybe I wouldn’t even have any qualms with what my name was and I’d be grateful my folks had chosen it. Maybe I’d see the quiet dignity in it. Maybe people would call me Shel, and when they said it, it’d conjure the notion of me sitting on the beach, gazing out toward the sea.